I stretched out on the rooftop lounge chair at the Sicilian Film Festival waiting for its book conference to start. Then, with only minutes to spare before the starting bell, I walked over to the author and keynote speaker David Healey and introduced myself. Mr. Healey would soon be discussing his novella, Kindness for the Damned. Our meeting turned out to be a most pleasant surprise, especially since we shared so much in common. Before David uttered the first word of his speech, I was impressed by his calm and composure.
Rudely soaked by small rivers of water poured on us by rogue ebony clouds, we moved our gathering indoors. Guests assembled around Healey and a seasoned, tattooed conference table that he’d commandeered. Conferees circled him much like a football team wraps around its quarterback. For some reason, I blurted “LoMonaco” along with my mom’s city of birth. “Mazara Del Vallo, I have relatives there”, echoed in the background. Our lecturer added, “One of my relatives is an accomplished young, blind musician named Mike Romeo. He’s related to the LoMonaco family on his mother’s side,” said Healey. I reacted immediately. I too was a LoMonaco on my mother’s side. My wife asked, “Related?” I just shrugged my shoulders in ignorance.
David Healey, as it turned out, lived in, wrote in, and savored my father’s hometown, Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily. Now, my discovery of his links to Mazzara del Vallo, my mother’s birth city and with David’s musically gifted relative sharing my mother’s heritage, a smile pasted itself across my craggy face. I almost felt surrounded by family.
For a moment, I dismissed the notion of any more surprises. Sicily and Sicilians always presented me with surprises. They’d all been pleasant. The coincidences of this day proved no different. Much of David’s novella took place in Sicily. Refreshing, there was no mention of Mafia throughout his entire tome, except for a reference to a scene from a movie.
Set primarily in Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily, we spoke of that picture postcard seaside village. I mentioned my wading in the same crystal waters that my dad swam daily. I sensed a connection there, a nexus of sorts. The novelist interrupted my reverie and mentioned Castellammare’s church and his educational encounters with the priest’s assistant. I remembered her. I peeked over at my wife Adele. Our eyes met. I winked at my bride. We’d grinned as we remembered our learning about many of my roots from that woman’s whispers.
I then told D.J. Healey that I’d spoken to that same assistant years ago. At that time, we also chatted with the church’s octogenarian priest, Father Antonio Romano. The cooperative ecclesiastic couple dug thru the church archives, yanked out birth and baptismal manuscripts printed as clearly as any computer page I’d ever seen. The priest placed the manuscript on the trunk of my rental car, unfolded the pages much like an oversized architect’s survey, and pointed out my ancestors on that map of lives.
The poster sized archive, blanketing the rear of the car like a picnic tablecloth, delivered its hands-on history lesson. Its first car trunk revelation specified that Father Romano and I were related. His uncle Antonio was my great grandfather. We continued to speak until shadows smothered part of the alleyway, and my stomach growled in complaint. Finally, interruption by the yodeling fig vendors forced us to end our meeting.
As I walked away, I left a cash donation. Before my autista (chauffeur) could move two car lengths down the alley toward the larger street, the seasoned, yet imposing, Romano jogged toward me trying to return my church offering. Realizing that I’d not accept it, he gave me several anniversary books accenting his church’s history. The book was entitled, Maria Santissima del Soccorso Nei Suoi Vari Anniversari (Holy Mary of Hope). I joked, “What you don’t want to owe me anything? Nessuno oobrigo?” He smiled, hugged, and then blessed the rest of our journey.
I felt grateful and pleased about my literary encounter with Healey at the Sicilian Film Festival, especially after reading his book, Kindness of the Damned. That unique Italian word “simpatico,” without equal in any language, pranced across my mind. David represented the epitome of simpatico. The writer’s gift as a raconteur also proved obvious when he spoke to his audience. They sat while others stood, all in rapt attention. That storytelling skill easily transitioned into his novella that overflowed with intrigue, love, and redemption. The book touched upon mysteries stemming from the time of Christ, the Napoleonic Wars, encounters with evil clergymen, the murder of a Pope, and a miraculous product.
The novella brought me back to those magical moments of my youth gathered around our Sunday Sicilian dinner tables. It prodded me to reflect upon the numerous books I’d read throughout my life. I could count on one hand those that I could not put down until I’d read them cover to cover. My wife suggested that my reading more of D.J.’s captivating prose might make me even healthier. When one considers this stress free reading activity, the book’s warm and familiar sights and sounds, and my skipping all sorts of superfluous snacks until the last page was read, it seemed like a bona fide elixir for my overeating.
Anyone interested in purchasing this captivating, thought-provoking, and exciting novella should E-mail its author, David (D.J.) Healey at: davidj.healeygmail.com, or go to Amazon or other online book-sellers for hard copy, paperback, or e-versions of the book.
F. Anthony D’Alessandro